What can I do if my GP closes?

If your GP suddenly closes, it can come as a bit of a shock, especially if you've been with the same practice for many years. In this guide, we explain what steps you can take and your options following a closure.

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Why are GP practices closing?

Most people's first port of call for treatment is their GP surgery, whether they need routine healthcare advice or to access NHS services for specialist care. GPs are also vital for those with chronic illnesses that requiring long-term monitoring and care.

If your GP surgery closes, it can affect your ability to access timely care. NHS 111 and out-of-hours services are vital, but they have come under increasing pressure from patients who struggle to see their GP.

The reasons behind each GP practice clousure will always be unique, but in 2023, The Royal College of General Practitioners cited heavy workloads as a significant reason behind recent trends. GPs are experiencing burnout and leaving the profession, increasing the workload for those who remain.

Staffing shortages and increasing utility bills due to the cost-of-living crisis also impact GP practices. The result is a drop in available funding per patient, causing greater patient dissatisfaction.

How many GP practices are closing?

A Freedom of Information Act request by the Labour Party found that 200 GP surgeries closed between 2018 and 2022, leaving 650,000 people looking for a new GP. Some closures resulted from two practices merging to create a bigger surgery. A study by Manchester University found that two practices closed each week during their research.

Many closures reflected social inequality, with practices in deprived areas serving patients with complex needs closing down. Individuals in these areas are often less able to travel to a GP appointment due to a lack of resources or complex medical issues.

How to find a new GP surgery

If you find yourself looking for a new GP practice, you can start by visiting the NHS website. If your surgery is going to close or has already closed, it will likely notify NHS England so it can provide details of alternative providers locally. NHS England will also keep details of people who have asked to register with a GP practice but have been unable to.

However, you may still need to do some research to find a suitable practice.

We spoke to Sue, whose GP practice in Leicestershire closed in 2018. She says:

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I received a letter with a list of local surgeries, but about half of them weren't accepting new patients, and some said I was out of their area. I contacted a nearby surgery that hadn't been on the list and was able to register with them.

Even if you receive a letter with a list of local practices, you can still search for GPs in your area on the NHS website using their find a GP service. The search results show you which practices in your area currently accept new patients, their surgery opening hours and let you read reviews.

You can choose a surgery and complete an online form to register. The forms are available via the NHS app, your GP surgery's website or NHS profile page. You can also request a paper form if you prefer. You won't usually need to provide any ID, proof of address or immigration status. However, some practices may ask for this if it helps them to locate your medical records. Some surgeries also limit their patient list to people within their local area, so they may ask you for proof of address to confirm whether you qualify. You can ask to register with a practice outside your area but they may refuse if this condition applies.

What to do if you struggle to register with a GP surgery

You have a right to register with a GP, but a practice can refuse to accept you for several reasons. Your chosen surgery may be closed to new patients or only accept those from their local area. Equally, if you used to be on their patient list but have been removed, they can refuse to have you back. They must write to you within 14 days explaining why they won't register you so you understand their reasons.

If you struggle to register with a surgery, you can contact your local integrated care board (ICB) for help. Details of local ICBs are available here. You can also speak with Citizens Advice or Healthwatch, which works to share patient feedback with NHS decision-makers and help people get the medical help they need.

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Integrated care board (ICB)

The ICB is an NHS organisation that has been set up to develop a plan for how the NHS can meet the population's health needs. This includes 'managing the NHS budget and arranging for the provision of health services in a geographical area'.

Its goals are:

  • Improve the population's health by improving healthcare
  • Reducing  health care inequalities caused by things such as the availability of services in different local areas, often referred to as the NHS postcode lottery.
  • Enhance the performance levels in the NHS, i.e. waiting times for tests or how quickly an ambulance reaches patience

How to find a good GP

Ideally, you'll have a choice of surgeries so you can register with a practice that meets your needs. Your GP will likely look after you and your family, providing healthcare advice and treatment in the long term, so you want the best possible care.

Finding the best GP for you

You can use the NHS website to search for a local surgery, where you can read reviews about the standard of care. Often speaking to friends and family members who live in the same area as you about their thoughts on the local practice can help you get a more human picture about what it is really like to be a patient there.

Remember, your choice of doctor is a personal one. For example, you may prefer a surgery that offers extended opening hours if you work full-time or need to consider how you'll travel to your local practice. Can you get there on foot or must you use public transport or find parking nearby?

You can search for a surgery on the Care Quality Commission website. The CQC inspects practices to ensure they offer a good standard of care. They also provide information on the quality of care provided to different groups, such as children, older people and those with chronic conditions, so you can find a practice that meets your needs.

The GP patient survey collects information on patients' overall experience. A new edition is due this summer, but you can search for information from the 2022 survey here.

Private GP services

You may have considered paying for a private GP appointment if you struggle to see your GP when needed or aren't registered. Private appointments can offer quick medical help for straightforward issues. However, they lack continuity of care, which isn't ideal if you have long-term health needs.

You can pay for ad hoc appointments, pay for a subscription or invest in health insurance. Most private services offer video or telephone appointments with some face-to-face consultations.

Pay-as-you-go appointments

There are various private practices, from small clinics to practices that are part of a more extensive network. Many practices offer 24/7 appointments so you can seek medical advice at a convenient time. Some ask you to pay in advance, while others take payment after your consultation. You'll typically have a 30-minute appointment time, which is longer than most NHS GPs can offer.

You can expect to pay between £75 and £110 for a weekday appointment and more on weekends or Bank Holidays. If you need a prescription, private prescription costs are typically much higher than the NHS, limited to £9.35 per item. Costs vary depending on the practice and the pharmacy that dispenses your medication.

Some providers offer a subscription service, so you don't have to worry about whether you can afford to see a doctor before contacting them. You can also consider investing in health insurance.

Health insurance

Every health insurance policy includes a virtual GP service with 24/7 telephone or video consultations. You can use the service whenever necessary without paying for individual appointments.

Some providers also offer a limited number of face-to-face appointments for an additional fee. However, some only provide this service in London, so it may not be suitable if you live elsewhere in the UK.

Getting professional advice

We hope this guide has helped you explore your options if you've found yourself needing a GP. If you'd like to learn more about how private health insurance can help you access medical care, contact us for a comparison quote. We'll put you in touch with a high-quality, regulated broker for tailored advice.

Disclaimer: This information is general and what is best for you will depend on your personal circumstances. Please speak with a financial adviser or do your own research before making a decision.

Kirsty France
Personal Finance and Healthcare Expert

Kirsty is a personal finance and healthcare expert who enjoys demystifying legal and insurance topics for a wider audience. She’s a former solicitor with a personal injury and insurance background.

Frequently Asked Questions

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